How to Make More Than a Living
April Tam Smith and Graham Smith hold hands on their wedding day.

April 2, 2019


How can people be so cheerfully, radically generous?

That was my reaction after speaking with Graham and April Tam Smith, the guests on our upcoming episode of Crazy Good Turns.

After you hear their story, which comes out on Sunday, April 7, you may have the same reaction.  

What it Means to be Radically Generous

Graham and April aren’t two folks you’d typically tag as radicals. They are young professionals living in New York City. But they stand out through their dedication to living a lifestyle of generosity. And that is an understatement.

For example:

  • They spent their honeymoon volunteering in Haiti
  • They’ve used their salaries and their talents to launch a restaurant called P.S. Kitchen in NYC, which is remarkable because:
    • The restaurant is committed to employing people who are in need of a second chance, such as former addicts or people with criminal records
    • They donate all of the profits from the restaurant to charity
  • They give in many other ways too. In fact, when you total it all up, they do what’s called “reverse tithing.”

Reverse Tithing: Giving Away (Nearly) Everything

“Tithing” is a term with which you may already be familiar. Traditionally, to tithe means to give away 10 percent of what you earn. That’s a laudable achievement, and certainly generous from most perspectives.

But April and Graham flip that equation. They give away 90 percent of what they earn and live on the remaining 10 percent.

To me, that definitely puts the “crazy” in Crazy Good Turn — and does so on a sustaining basis. It is radically generous.

Yet when you hear Graham and April describe their lives, they are very matter-of-fact about their generosity. They are not boastful. They don’t go out of their way to draw attention to it. And they never make mention of any difficulties brought about by that lifestyle, or speak of things they’ve had to give up.

In fact, what was crystal clear in speaking with them was how much they felt their giving enriched their lives.

A Highly Provocative Idea

As I listened to April and Graham, the uppermost thought in my mind was:

These two unassuming people are living one of the most provocative lifestyles I have ever encountered.

They “provoke” because of the confident generosity with which they live their lives. The things they do call into question: Why not me? Why can’t I do that? And what could I do to approach that standard?

They are questions I am still reflecting upon. But the first part of an answer, at least for me, can be found in a quote attributed to Winston Churchill:

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

I hope that when you tune in to April and Graham’s story this Sunday, you’ll get a sense of their joy in making a life, not just a living.

– Frank

P.S. – Want to make sure you don’t miss April and Graham’s story? Sign up for our newsletter here and we’ll make sure you receive it as soon as it comes out.

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The Surprising Secret of Success
The daughter of a Home Depot associate shares why she's proud of her parent.

March 12, 2019


My favorite video ever has never been on TV or Netflix. But you can watch it here.

We showed this clip at a Home Depot store managers meeting many years ago. It was a way to say “thank you” to our associates, who very much deserved it. But I still show it frequently today, because I think it illustrates several principles for success:

  • the value of communicating to your team the importance of what they do;
  • why purpose and vision matter within organizations;
  • most of all, the primacy of showing gratitude.

But recently, I’ve come to believe that there’s another even more profound lesson within the footage. Perhaps you noticed it.

A New Understanding of Pride

The spot ends with children saying that they are proud of their parents. Sometimes they explain why. Their statements are emotionally powerful, and reverse the usual expression of pride.

We are used to parents saying they are proud of their children. In professional settings, we are used to leaders saying they are proud of their teams.

I’ve come to think that a more important question is: Is your child proud of you? Or if you are a leader, is your team proud of you?

The video offers clues into what factors will determine the answer.

The Lesson Between the Lines

If you listen closely to what the children are saying, the source of that pride becomes clear. Their pride is in the things they see their parents do for others.

Sometimes they cite great deeds, like volunteering to help rebuild after Superstorm Sandy. But more often it’s in the actions they see their parents do every day.

“She likes to help people,” one child says of her mother.

“She tells people, ‘Good job,’” says another.

“He’ll see someone walking in and he’ll probably hold the door open for them,” a daughter says of her dad.

The most direct route in winning someone’s pride is through generosity and doing for others. But you don’t need to do something incredible to be incredible.

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Here’s Something to Look Forward to
Beautiful sunrise over the mountain.

February 26, 2019


Good news, everybody: Season Four of Crazy Good Turns starts this Sunday, March 3. The episode features Edward Bailey, who runs an addiction treatment center outside Atlanta called No Longer Bound.

No Longer Bound’s unique and unusual approach to treatment has been remarkably successful. But Edward’s own life is also remarkable. In fact, he was once a patient in the organization he now runs.

As I look back across our CGT episodes, I realize that we began the podcast thinking that the stories would be inspirational. That they’d provide a dose of celebration and good feeling. I hope they’ve done that.

But increasingly, I look at the episodes through a different lens:

What can we learn from people who do such extraordinary things? How can we take a fraction of what they do and inject that into our daily lives?

In talking with Edward Bailey, here’s what I hoped to learn:

If I were rescued from a horrible situation, would my response be to turn back and rescue others?

Or would my response be to move on, with gratitude, of course, but still move on?

I won’t spoil the episode by giving the answers to you now. But I will say: Along the way, we’re going discuss a few things you already know, such as how pervasive drug addiction issues are in this country today.

More people now die from drugs every year than from car crashes or gun-related deaths. For the first time since World War 1, our national longevity is on the decline — and that’s directly a result of the impact of drug addiction.

So you know that most treatment centers fail. You know the rate of returning to addiction is high. Let’s imagine you know all this and you once had fought addiction yourself, but escaped. Would you turn back to help?

Edward’s answer — “Yes” — is backed by a powerful mix of courage, perseverance and faith.

His mission? To do for one what he wishes he could do for all.

The mission contains a valuable lesson in persistence: You can only learn it by maintaining your mission, minute-by-minute, day-by-day. And while many may aspire to have a big impact in life, it only happens if you’re willing to do the work of helping one person, then another, then another.

I’d like to thank Edward Bailey for an inspiring and thought-provoking conversation. And I’d like to invite you to tune in and hear it. Sign up here to receive notice when the episode comes out.

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My Weekend at Bernie’s
A Home Depot Store Managers meeting, seen from above.

February 13, 2019



BERNIE MARCUS is one of the founders of The Home Depot. He’s also one of the most generous philanthropists in the country. We featured him on Crazy Good Turns during Season 2 — one of my favorite episodes. I think it captures some of the spark that makes him unique as an entrepreneur and person.

This past weekend, my wife and I had the privilege of staying at Bernie and Billi Marcus’s house in Florida. I could make many comments about their gracious hospitality and the wide-ranging conversations we had.

But I am going to keep this note to one important story.


Twelve years ago, when I became CEO of Home Depot, no one in the company knew who I was. To the extent that anyone knew anything about me, they knew:

  • I had little retail experience
  • I had worked at General Electric for over a decade, and…
  • I was a lawyer

This was not a set of qualifications to inspire confidence. My predecessor was also from GE and had little retail experience. That had not gone well.

It is fair to say that my selection as CEO did not generate a lot of enthusiasm.


The first call I made as CEO was to Bernie, who at that point had no formal connection with the company. Over the next eight years, he gave me invaluable advice across a range of issues.

The first thing Bernie did for me was singularly important.

I asked him to come to our annual store managers’ meeting. It’s a gathering of thousands, which is part inspirational meeting, part business event.

He could very easily have declined. But he didn’t.

Bernie came, and his appearance at the meeting was viewed as a vote of confidence. Comments from store managers after the meeting all expressed the same theme: We don’t know this guy, but if Bernie is out on the stage with him, he must be OK.

That stamp of approval made an enormous difference to me.


Crazy Good Turns take many forms. We can give our time, our resources, or our passion and commitment. Sometimes what we give is our approval.

Our individual reputations are our biggest assets. We leverage them when we grant our approval and trust in others. Bernie did that for me.

This weekend was a reminder of how important and meaningful that can be.

Has someone ever done a Crazy Good Turn for you at work? If so, tell me about it at

This message originally appeared in our biweekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive it

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Check Out the Smiles on These Kids’ Faces

October 16, 2018


Here’s something that will make your day brighter.

Two Special Spectators on the field with Ohio State’s Cheer Squad. (Photo: Angelo Merendino)
Special Spectators cheer on the Buckeyes. (Photo: Angelo Merendino)
A Special Spectator shows off the gear he got to wear inside the Sooners’ locker room. (Photo: Joshua Gateley)


09/29/2018 Oklahoma v Baylor football. Photo by Joshua R. Gateley

Those are just some of the smiles to come from our campaign so far. The pictures are from games this season at Oklahoma and Ohio State, which hosted 10 kids and their caretakers.

Those families attended at no cost, thanks to those of you who’ve signed up for our #CrazyGoodForKids Gameday campaign.

While sports may seem like just fun and games to some, but the experiences you’ve provided to these kids and their families is a big deal.

Earlier this season, we introduced you to Terry Davis, who’s son Taylor had been diagnosed with leukemia. Terry described what a day as a Special Spectator is like. Now we’d like to share what he said about the lasting impact of that experience:

Listen to what Terry said about the moment he met Blake Rockwell — and what happened to Taylor afterward.

When you check out the full episode, you can hear the emotional and inspiring story of how Special Spectators came about. You’ll also learn the incredible lengths that Blake goes to in order to give these incredible experiences to more than 10,000 kids — and counting.

Here’s one more picture you help make possible when you sign up for our campaign:

(Photo: Angelo Merendino)

Thanks for being part of something special! 

(And if you haven’t signed up yet, join in here — it’s free!)

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Marginalia: A Better Way to Read
Handwritten notes in the margin of a book atop a wooden table.

October 8, 2018


My father left me a wonderful collection of books. Even better, he left me books that contained his written comments in the margins.

His comments make the book live for me. Those books are far more important to me because of his comments. I learn from, and connect to, his presence — even from simple underlining.

Marking up a book in this way is known as marginalia. The practice is at least as old as mechanical book printing. Cambridge University has an exhibit that catalogs notes left in books printed from 1450-1550. (Curators selected that period because Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press came online by 1450.)

Far more recently, author and artist Austin Kleon wrote about the importance of “Reading with a Pencil” on his blog.

I’d like to share my margin notes from Kleon’s post with you. The entry contains a great quote from a friend of his:

Every piece of art I’ve ever made was because I saw bad and could do better, or saw great and needed to catch up.

This is a quote I would underline.

Substitute “crazy good turn” for “piece of art” in that quote, and you have one of the dominant forces at work in the stories featured in our podcasts.

The people we highlight may set out to do good because they saw something bad and wanted to fix it. (Georgie Smith launching A Sense of Home in response to a shortcoming in the Foster Care system is a great example of this.)  

Or they draw inspiration from someone who’s done something great, and try to emulate it. (Here you could look to Frank Siller and his family’s work with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, carrying on the legacy of NYC Firefighter Stephen Siller.)  

In either case, they aren’t just bearing witness to the world. They’re seeing what’s there, then inserting themselves into the action — just as a reader armed with a pencil can shape the story into something entirely new on their own.

In our increasingly digital world — a universe of widely distributed photos and podcasts — what is our equivalent of ‘reading with a pencil’?

It is writing comments, or making the effort to like or share content. And the step forward in the digital world is that our marginalia can be seen by others and enrich their experience.

As I write that, it seems like a wildly optimistic view of digital commentary. We’ve all seen how dialog online can spiral into hateful and divisive words.  

But it doesn’t seem too optimistic for the Crazy Good Turns community. Your comments and observations — whether on our Facebook wall, @ me on Twitter, or to my personal email — have been consistently thoughtful, and often enrich my view of the stories we’ve told.

To everyone who has taken the time to write something after one of our episodes — or simply to “like” it or share it — many thanks for listening with your digital pencil!


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12 Camps for Kids Who Need a Little Help

August 7, 2018


Think back to the best summer camp you ever attended, and days spent exploring the woods, playing capture the flag, and climbing rock walls likely come to mind. Sure, the activities were a blast, but experts say that when you (or your kids) spend a week or weekend at camp, something even more powerful happens.

“There many benefits provided by nature that can’t be found in a non-camp setting,” says Dr. Irene McClatchey, Director of the MSW Program for the Department of Social Work and Human Services at Kennesaw State University. A short list of those benefits of camping includes:

  • Time spent in nature can improve your attention and memory, according to Italian research
  • Problem solving increases self esteem and independence, both of which are crucial components for growth, according to research from Florida State University
  • The American Camp Association says the great outdoors can promote honesty, trust, and respect among campers
  • Camp participants get a chance to work together and solve problems with each other during activities, McClatchey says. These shared experiences break down walls and bring people together more quickly. At camp, strangers become friends within a matter of days or hours.

Bonding over your shared skills, hobbies, and experiences made the time camp great, and possibly even transformative. That’s the principle that makes many modern camps successful, especially those programs designed for children who have been exposed to traumas.

In a recent episode of Crazy Good Turns, counselors and volunteers at Camp HOPE in Wisconsin, a retreat for kids and adults dealing with the death of a loved one, shared how they were able to shed enormous emotional burdens within a single weekend. The special thing about Camp HOPE is that 90 percent of the people who work there have also lost a close family member or friend.

“Knowing that everyone there has experienced trauma helps the campers understand organically that they aren’t alone,” McClatchey says. In 1995, she developed Camp MAGIK, a similar healing camp in Georgia for bereaved children and adolescents.

There many other camps in the U.S. like Camp HOPE and Camp MAGIK that provide safe environments where kids can heal next to others just like them—and have a blast in the process. (The similarly named Camp HOPE America, for example, is the first camping and mentoring initiative in the U.S. to focus on children exposed to domestic violence.) Here are 10 more:

Camp Corral

This free summer camp is for children ages 8-15 whose parents are wounded, injured, ill, or fallen military service members.
Where: More than 20 locations including Georgia, Florida, and Virginia.

Camp Mariposa

Children ages 9-12 can attend this camp, meant for kids who have been impacted by substance abuse in their families, for free.
Where: 13 locations including New Orleans, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Camp Erin

This camp, for children and teens ages 6-17, is the country’s largest bereavement program for kids grieving the death of a significant person in their lives.

Where: Locations in every Major League Baseball city and other additional sites in the U.S. and Canada.

Camp Mitton

Massachusetts children who are experiencing feelings of hopeless and low self-image, but have problems expressing them in a healthy way, can attend this weekend camp.
Where: Duxbury, Massachusetts

Royal Family KIDS

This weeklong camp gives foster kids ages 6-12 the opportunity to participate in activities designed to boost their success and self-esteem.
Where: Locations in more than 40 states and other countries.

Outward Bound Intercept for Struggling Youth

This wilderness expedition is intended for youth and young adults at risk of academic failure and delinquency.
Where: 16 locations, including the Pacific Northwest, Central America, and India

Camp Freedom

Kentucky campers ages 6-11 can attend this weeklong retreat for children with behavioral, emotional, or physical needs who are in foster care or in the custody of their grandparents.
Where: Lebanon Junction, Kentucky

Camp B&ST

Children ages 8-17 who have lost a parent or sibling within the last 3 years to cancer or sickle cell anemia can attend this New York-based camp.
Where: Mendon, New York

Camp Connect

This camp is for children in San Diego who have been exposed to child abuse, abandonment, neglect, and have been placed in foster care. The program allows separated siblings to come together.
Where: San Diego, California

Camp Phoenix
Children in Texas who have been involved in a traumatic accident can attend this weekend retreat.
Where: Plano, Texas

To hear more about the transformative power of camping, check out our episode on Wisconsin’s Camp HOPE

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Faces of Neurodiversity: Meet the Precisionists

February 13, 2018


What is neurodiversity? I hadn’t known before we started this episode on The Precisionists, Inc. Founder Ernie Dianastasis mentioned the term during our interview, when he credited the term to a book called “NeuroTribes” by Stephen Silberman. Up until that moment, I was a clueless neurotypical.

A neurotypical, by the way, is someone who is not on the autism spectrum. Those who are on the spectrum are known as neurodiverse.

The book largely makes the same point that Dianastasis did in our episode: People on the spectrum are cognitively different. And those differences present the opportunity to gain new insights.

Ernie says the book makes the case that “the best and most innovative companies are going to be the ones where neurodiverse and neurotypical people are working side by side, doing great things together.”  

That’s certainly what The Precisionists are doing. And the benefits go far beyond money. What stood out most to our team during the production of this episode wasn’t just that Dianastasis and his views on neurodiversity were creating jobs — it was the impact that those jobs were having on people’s lives. We spoke with several of the people on staff at TPI and asked about their experiences. Here is what they said.

“I didn’t learn I had autism until I was 26 years old. In retrospect, it describes so much about my past.

“Why I was bullied growing up. Why I never wanted to go over to friends’ houses. Why I always wanted to just play outside and see what was under the rocks instead of playing football. I didn’t realize it at the time.

“Despite the many issues I had socially all the way through high school, the structure allowed me to thrive academically, which made me a straight-A student and allowed me to get into Stanford.

“After college was my first time really just having to kind of advocate for myself. I was thrown out into the world and didn’t really have the tool set to know how to find a job. I mean, I knew the basics of how to write a cover letter and try to get interview. But a lot of the social parts, I didn’t know.

“So all I really had success with in terms of trying to find a more permanent or nine-to-six type of job would be through temp employment agencies. But those were always very short gigs. I had no idea where I would go, like what company I’d be going into.

“One place I worked, it was the same job every day. But that wasn’t the issue. The issue was the people.

“One thing about people on the spectrum is a lot of us have to have time to decompress after a work day or a social situation. So at the end of a work day, I think it’s great that a lot of neurotypicals can go and socialize more right away after work. But because I didn’t, people thought I didn’t like them. I even said it doesn’t mean anything — you know, ‘I think you guys are cool.’ But that, combined with probably some of the facial expressions I was making, made people think I didn’t like them. A couple started to kind of bully me — well, not kind of, they would bully me in the workplace verbally.

“At the Precisionists, just from the very beginning, everybody’s been on the autism spectrum. So everybody there is different and has their own foibles and idiosyncrasies. But what’s wonderful is everybody is tolerant and welcoming of everybody’s foibles and idiosyncrasies, instead of using those differences to try to put other people down.” – Michael Stat


“If it was a traditional interview, a lot of these individuals would never get past the first couple of minutes. Because they may be uncomfortable looking someone in the eye or shaking their hand or whatever it would be. The red flags would go up in a traditional HR interview.

“At the end of the day, how someone shakes your hand, or whether they look you in the eye or not, has no bearing in terms of whether they’re going to be strong performers in a technical job.

“So instead of the interview, each person would get a project to do with a Lego Mindstorm. Now, a Mindstorm is different than just the Lego toys that we all grew up playing with. It’s a programmable robot. It’s a very sophisticated toy.

“And it’s also a great ice breaker. When candidates are coming in, it’s a very non-threatening way to just develop rapport and have people feel comfortable. Instead of sitting down and doing a tense interview, it’s ‘Hey, here’s a Lego project.’ And we bring in pizza or popcorn and just make it a very comfortable and fun thing to do.” – Ernie Dianastasis, founder and CEO


“I’ve never worked with other people who have autism before. I was diagnosed with it when I was about three. I know sometimes people think I don’t have autism, but it’s still there.” – Clarence Jackson


“It was quite a shock to be around people who were just like me.

“It’s such a rare breed. I was really amazed that these people were right on the same page where I am, intellectually and socially. I felt like I belonged.

“When I got hired, I was so happy. I’d been living in group homes, stuck in that loop for about four years. I was just kind of a ward of the state. As soon as I got the job, I hightailed it out of there.

“It was a huge milestone. I’m working on getting a car now.” – Kalyn Morris


“Sometimes I get the impression that sometimes people think autism is synonymous with being slow or dyslexic, when really it’s not. If you have high functioning autism, like me, you can still learn. It just takes awhile to get a grip on things. Practice makes perfect.” – Patrick Kenneally


“It’s so fun to do this. I like to scan a lot of pages. When I scan a lot of pages, I sometimes like to hang out at my desk and draw for a few minutes or seconds until I type in the data and all.

“I also work at the courthouse. Only on Thursdays though.

“Not only do I get to work with other people who have autism, I can also work with anyone. I’m showing that it’s diverse-abling them, not disabling them from anything. We give them more abilities.” – Gregory Joseph Pagano Jr. 


“I have a couple of degrees. One is an Associate Degree from Bell Tech in Computer Information Systems. Then a bachelor’s in Game Design Development from Wilmington. But I’d never worked in IT technology. Well, the only other work I’d done — and this was like 10 years earlier — is I worked at Circuit City.” – Matthew Norman


“When Michael wrote his college essay, that I think helped get him into Stanford, I think the opening sentence was something like, ‘I am not from this world.

“We later found a website called The idea that this is the wrong planet for some people. I think shows how they feel like they’re a stranger in a strange land.

“Michael was always a model student. In some cases we would hear from longtime teachers who said he was the best they had ever taught — ever — in one subject or another. But Michael was not engaged in traditional social relationships with the other kids.

“Following college, as he ran into difficulties, somebody along the way said, ‘Could he have Asperger’s?’ And I hadn’t even heard of the word. Somebody referred me to a book written by a gentleman from Australia, and I started reading this book and said, ‘How can this guy in Australia know my son?’ We all finally, said, ‘Yes, now this explains things.’ And that was a big step forward.

“Society — especially the meanest part of society — tends to ostracize people who are in the minority. There are too many people who build themselves up by tearing other people down, and people like Michael become the victims of that, and become isolated.

“I think that you can help by making this Earth the right planet for everyone. If you can embrace the amazing diversity of talent that’s in all people, with kindness and with thoughtfulness, then the world will be a better place and we will all have made a important difference.” – Richard Stat, Michael Stat’s dad. 

Hear their story. 

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Creating a Place Where Anything is Possible for Kids with Cancer: A Conversation with Sally Hale of Camp Sunshine
sally hale of camp sunshine

August 15, 2017



For 35 years Sally Hale has helped create fun times and fond memories for kids with cancer and their families.

When Camp Sunshine in Georgia became one of the first summer camps in the world specifically designed to serve kids and teenagers fighting the disease, Hale was the camp nurse. Today she oversees all of Camp Sunshine, which not only offers two weeks of camps but also provides year-round support for kids and their families both inside the hospital and out.

When Hale sat down with Crazy Good Turns for our profile of Camp Sunshine in S02 Episode 12, she told us about how she got her start at the camp, why its programming has evolved and expanded so far beyond its summer getaways, and how her organization helps those affected by cancer heal not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.

Tell me about your upbringing, and how it led you to where you are today.

SALLY HALE: My family and my community was all about taking care of those around you. It was a community that, if somebody needed help, you pitched in and helped. You didn’t expect any less. It was just ingrained into me: You develop a community of support around you, and you support and help others. I didn’t really think of that as giving back. I didn’t think of it as philanthropy.

Now that I look back, I realize that’s the basis of a camp community—giving back, broadening your community and helping those in need.

And you went on to become a nurse. Can you tell me how that came about?

HALE: I was a nurse and started working in Atlanta right out of college, and went to graduate school. I was part of the pediatric oncology group at Emory and Egleston Hospital, which is now a part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, when Dorothy Jordan (Camp Sunshine’s founder) approached me.

I did not know Dorothy, but she knew of me. And she approached me and said, ‘I’ve got this idea to start a camp for children with cancer. What do you think about it?’

At that time there were only a handful of camps for children with cancer in the country. I knew of them because pediatric oncology is really a small community.

I said, ‘It’s a great idea. We don’t have the time to start it, but if you start it, I’ll help you. I’ll make sure that the doctors and nurses know about it, and that the parents know about it, and I’ll be there with you.’ So that’s how it all got started, really.

So you were a member of the founding team then, right?

HALE: I was. I was the camp nurse the very first year. I got the doctor there, Dr. Ray Gablazar , our camp doctor. I started telling the parents about it in the clinic. I would say I’m going to be there, Dr. Ray Gab’s going to be there, it’s safe to send your kids there.

We started planning it in 1982, and 1983 was our first camp. We had 38 kids that very first year and a handful of our own counselors, doctors, and nurses. We’d talked to other camps who had gotten started around the country but again there were only a handful. Dorothy spoke with them, she visited one of the camps up in Chicago, and we learned from them. They were very open to sharing what they knew, and what their experiences were. Together we took a leap of faith—and the parents certainly took a leap of faith in sending their kids that very first year.

Was it hard to convince parents to let their kids go for a week?

HALE: You know, now that I look back at it, I think it probably was hard for the parents to send their kids that first week. In fact, some parents said, “Not this first year. I might send them next year.”

But they trusted us. They knew me. I took care of their children. They knew Dr. Ray Gab. That was a tremendous amount of faith and trust they put in us to send their child. And these were kids that couldn’t go to other camps. So I think the parents learned that it was a gift to their child to be able to send them.

Where was camp back then?

HALE: Our first camp was on Lake Burton at High Harbour. It is now a YMCA camp. At that time, it was privately owned and we didn’t know if we’d have enough money to pay the bill. I think it was something like $18,000, which is incredible now to think, but we didn’t know. We just had supporters who were behind us. Dorothy really made sure that we had the money.

Today there are more than 120 camps for kids with cancer. What would you say differentiates Camp Sunshine?

HALE: Our program now is so much more than a summer camp. A lot of the camps that are in existence are strong, but they’re one week in the summer. We’re not only two weeks, but over 140 programs during the year. We run programs year-round. Nine weekends and two weeks out at Camp Twin Lakes.

We also have programs at Camp Sunshine House. We have programs around the state. We have groups. Next week, we’re sending a group of teenagers out to Colorado for an adventure program with the Colorado Outward Bound School. So we’re doing things year-round.

What kinds of programs are held at Camp Sunshine House?

HALE: We have support programs for families. We host nights where parents learn about sending their child away to camp at the first time. We have family nights for those who’ve lost their child to cancer, where they can come back into a community of people who understand.

We have lock-ins for teenagers and so they come on an evening, spend the night, stay up all night, and are together or dance, or a preschool program. Yoga classes for parents. We just do things all year-round. We’re also in the hospital on a weekly basis and actually take camp to the hospital.

What happens then?

HALE: We are in the hospital every week, meeting families, meeting children who are newly diagnosed, communicating with staff. And then, once a month, we take our camp program to the hospital. Both campuses of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as well as the Aflac Cancer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

We call it “Sunshine To You.” They get hats. They get T-shirts. They get to go in the playroom and play basketball or archery or do arts and crafts, or we’ll bring a magic show. It gets the kids out of the hospital bed. It gets them out of their rooms and interacting with each other.

Kids with cancer just want to be kids. They have had so much taken away from them. But when you put them in that kind of environment, they just are kids. They want to play and communicate with each other and make friends. That’s not only what “Sunshine To You” in the hospital does, but that’s also the basis of all of our programs.

I understand there are also bereavement weekends. Can you describe how they came about?

HALE: Families that come to Camp Sunshine programs, especially our family camp weekends, are embraced by a community of support. And when they lose a child to cancer, not only have they lost that child, but so much of their support system. There are not a lot of people out there who understand that same kind of grief.

We had a parent come to us and say, ‘You told us you’re there for us throughout our cancer journey. We’re still on that. We’ve lost a child and now we’ve lost our community and support. We need to be around other families who’ve experienced this.’ So they really challenged us to look at that journey beyond cancer and help them.

So we started a bereavement program. We started a “Remember the Sunshine Family” weekend for families who’ve lost a child, and that’s now extended to monthly support groups for those families.

And what year did that weekend start?

HALE: We’ve had 13 “Remember the Sunshine” weekends and we have served over 278 families in that program. The weekend is just like any other family camp weekend. The families come together. They each get their own cabin. We have activities where they can choose either to do an activity as a family or they might split up and somebody might go to archery and others are boating.

It’s a weekend where they can be together in a community where the other people understand them. And if they are fishing and all of a sudden break down into tears, people understand that. If they want to walk down to the cabin where their child spent five summers in a cabin as a camper and see what’s on the walls and open the door and be in that space because that’s where they brought their child, people understand that.

They don’t have to apologize for wanting to talk about their child, their experience and their grief. But a lot of times, they’re just having fun together as a family.

I have to say—and you can comment on this if you want—but we’ve done a lot of site visits, and the one to Camp Sunshine was one of the most fun and uplifting. Which was not at all what I expected. It was so full of joy.

HALE: A lot of people, when they come to visit Camp Sunshine, feel that it’s going to be sad. But you have to remember that kids with cancer are kids. They desperately want to be children.

They’re so different from adults, because adults who have cancer have the disease and their treatment on their minds. They’re filled with worries.

Kids—when you remove them from that clinic space, that hospital space, the overprotectiveness of their parents—they just want to be kids. They want to go out and play and do what any other child would want. That’s why it’s filled with lots of joy and love. It’s a place where anything’s possible.

Where did the bracelets come from? When did that start, and how?

HALE: The bracelets started our very first year. It came from Camp One Step At A Time, which is the camp I mentioned in Chicago that Dorothy had visited when she was planning our very first camp, and they had friendship bracelets made out of those fishing swivels. We adopted that tradition from the camp in Chicago.

Every year, we put different colored beads on it. The first year, we had no beads, and then we started adding the beads. And you only get them when you come to summer camp, none of our other programs. They’re very special. People will wear them for years and years. We’ve seen brides wrap them around their bouquets. Children want to wear them. They’re very special. They’ll keep them in a little memory box.

Do you have a story in your tenure there that really moved you?

HALE: There are a million. I will tell you a recent story that kind of astounded me.

It was a little girl who had been coming to camp for several years. Last year, she could not come because she was so sick and she was in New York having treatment. But she wanted to come and her surgeons in New York said, ‘We are going to try to get you there. We’re going to do this surgery and we’re going to hope you’re going to recover from the surgery and be well enough to go to camp.’ And she just said, ‘I need to be there, I need to be there.’

Well, she had the surgery and there were more complications and she was not able to come. And her doctors said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to make it there this year. We’ve really tried, but I don’t think you’re going to.’ And she told her parents, ‘I just need to be there, even if I’m on a bed. You don’t understand, I just need to be there with my friends.’

While she wasn’t able to get there last year, she was there this year, which was great. And she’s doing really well. But when her father was telling me that story, he said it was in that moment that they realized that, while they were focusing on healing her body and curing the cancer, we were focused on healing her spirits and healing her emotionally. And that was every bit as important. So that really struck me.

You have to deal with tragic personal loss. How do you cope with that?

HALE: It’s really tough. We had a young man years ago who made it to camp in a helicopter for a visit, a two-hour visit from the hospital. We were able to get the Governor’s helicopter. They flew him to come to camp and all these friends gathered around to welcome him and make sure that the two hours at camp that he got to see everybody. He flew back to the hospital and he died the next morning. But he was there.

The loss—not only for us as volunteers, but for all of his friends—was incredible. That’s something that we had to experience collectively. That was in our early days, and what I realized is that the community rallies together and supports each other, and it was so important for those teenagers to be together. Yes, it is very, very sad. But you realize what a gift we’ve been able to give to that young man. And what a gift his parents gave to us to entrust us with the last few hours of his life. So we were able to do something that no one else could do for him at that point and stage.

Camp can add to that person’s life and enrich it. And they teach us lessons that we never forget. We remember them forever.


Hear Sally Hale in our Episode on Camp Sunshine


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